Hello, again, hello. I have finally received my Blu-ray copy of Guillermo del Toro’s 2001 feature The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo), released by the Criterion Collection on July 30, 2013. It’s certainly one of my favorites of del Toro’s, and the Criterion Collection has provided a fantastic new release of the film. Take a looksie at the packaging:
Sorry about the abhorrent flash (I’m not a professional photographer by any means). The Criterion Collection provides a succinct summary of the film: “Set during the final week of the Spanish Civil War, it tells the tale of a twelve-year-old boy who, after his freedom-fighting father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of terrible secrets. Del Toro expertly combines gothic ghost story, murder mystery, and historical melodrama in a stylish mélange that, like his later Pan’s Labyrinth, reminds us the scariest monsters are often the human ones.” I seriously could not have said it better myself (that’s why I used it, haha).
On the surface, it’s a ghost-ridden, gothic thriller, but it is most definitely more than just that. Even though it is situated into this horror genre, it is far from anything that we would nowadays consider to be in that genre (Paranormal Activity, Saw, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.), as it is not the intention to out-right scare the viewer. Yes, the film certainly has its moments of complete disgust, but there aren’t any cheap thrills here because that’s not the point. If anything, it’s a revenge story: the ghost Santi wants to kill the individual who killed him, and does so through the use of the inhabitants of the orphanage (the killer, Jacinto, still among them).
Santi is most definitely not Casper the Friendly Ghost–he does frighten, at least initially, our protagonist, Carlos–but he is looking for help, and he enlists the help of his fellow (living) orphans to kill Jacinto, a worker at the orphanage (and once a resident there himself). Jacinto wants a better life for himself, and he knows that Carmen, the orphanage administrator, has some gold in the orphanage’s safe and he wants it (that’s why he has sex with Carmen: to get a better shot at getting the gold). He’s driven to obtain the money and leave the orphanage behind forever (he has a mixture of his own horrible childhood in the orphanage, where he is still living, and the fact that he killed a child there, which, if Carmen found out, he would be fired instantly). Let’s just say that Santi succeeds in his endeavors.
War is a strange thing; personally, I’m not a fan of it (I mean, who really is?), but it is interesting to see how people respond to war. And, just like in del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, we get to see how war affects children. War killed Carlos’ father, making him an orphan. That’s a terrible thing to begin with, but what is even more terrible is that he is left at the orphanage permanently, expecting to only be stopping there momentarily. This certainly shakes Carlos’ world, and he must now adjust to life without a family in a new, strange, and haunted environment. I love how del Toro can spin multiple genres to create great cinema.
I’ll certainly write more on The Devil’s Backbone, and probably Pan’s Labyrinth as well, but I just wanted to give you a taste of this awesome film. I leave you with Three Reasons as to why you should watch the film, provided by the Criterion Collection: